June 16, 5:30 - 9:30, 1959
Anthony had lived in his house for as far as the viscosity of his memory would allow to be pressed through the ever decreasing diameter of veins that spread like a forest fungus away from the arteries of his everyday life, twisting and turning into the hidden niches of the grey soil where only incoherent dreams could be sustained on the faint suggestion of a promise to come up for air. After the first rays of sunlight shattered the darkness through the small opening between the brown curtains of his bedroom, evaporating all black matter that relentlessly pushed down his body into the mattress, dared he open his eyes to the world he lived in.
Anthony quickly stepped out of bed, put on his clothes that lay crumpled on the floor and did what he did every day as part of the ritual he had adopted to ensure all was well, that the night had not had any adverse effects on the structure of the home he so lovingly constructed over the years, despite what others in the neighbourhood might have said. It was a large house comprised of three levels and a large cellar, but when his mother passed away it had been considerably smaller, though it now accommodated a grand total of (at the moment) fifteen rooms, most of them empty for practical reasons since the troubles had started. Within an hour he measured all the rooms and concluded there were no changes to the measurements taken the previous day, nor the day before, and with a sigh of relief he realised the day could continue without having to worry about the house too much. Losing only one room over a period of six months was not bad; that was something he could keep up with. When it first started Anthony used to measure the outside of the building believing the overall size would give a clear indication of fluctuations regarding the volume, but that proved to be a mistake and one he would not make again.
After a quick check of the mortar and brickwork Anthony was adequately put at ease to go and search for the milk the Milkman would have put somewhere on his property and after a ramble through the garden he eventually found it by the shed amongst the building materials in the concrete mixer. The Milkman was a brave man, defying the night in his black Float delivering bottles filled with the whitest of fluids, thus serving the community. There were one or two people in the village who had ever caught a glimpse of him in the very early hours of the morning but none were able to give a clear description of this solitary man.
It was now around 7:30 in the morning and the first enormous transparent blocks of the day ahead squashed the dew from the grass and shaped another fine day into that what could be expected in June in the small village named Son Upon Tine.
Anthony showered, brushed his teeth, shaved and changed clothes whilst the percolator spat coffee into the glass pot spreading a distinct aroma of roasted Colombian beans throughout the kitchen. There would be no time for breakfast, just a quick cup of coffee before the run to the double-decker bus that would take him to work at 8:05 from the bus stop about 500 yards down the road quite close to the river. He adjusted his tie and rushed out of the bathroom to pick up his bowler hat, never noticing that the door jammed in the doorframe behind him.
Anthony worked wherever the bus took him. Those were the rules made by the mayor about ten years ago to create a new type of society and it was rumoured that he was also the driver of the one and only bus the parish owned. Yesterday had been particularly disturbing working in the cemetery, digging graves for the local elderly home after being informed there was a nasty bug in the air and although there were no fatalities as yet they were expecting quite a few residents to topple over in the coming days ahead.
After his coffee, his dash to the bus stop, catching his breath with both hands and cradling it to his chest like a rugby player, Anthony wondered what work was going to bring him today. Behind him the river slithered by, rolling over the muddy and murky contents in its belly, churning and grinding everything into tiny particles of sand whilst on the surface of it all, and this was quite unusual, it managed a little reflection of what was on the other side of its bank. There was a positive ambience in the otherwise dense character of the air so peculiar to this area around his house where he could often see the vague lines of how everything was constructed in the atmosphere itself. A little pinch of happiness spread from Anthony’s stomach only to be quenched by the roar of a grinding gearbox bellowing from the double-decker bus that was rushing towards him at an unusually high speed. As it came closer it became clear it had no intention of stopping at all and as it sped past, Anthony caught a glimpse of chaos through the windows. Some passengers screamed and covered their eyes with their hands and others were standing, seemingly outraged, shouting abuse towards the driver who desperately tried to keep hold of the steering wheel whilst being savagely attacked by two or three men. Miraculously the bus disappeared over the hill without careering off the road or slowing down at all. It belched out just one more gear change and a short high-pitched whine of the engine was carried over the ever-increasing distance before the silence settled like dust after a draught in the attic. Anthony, who had stepped back into the bus shelter, visibly shaken, picked up his bowler hat that was blown off his head by the passing bus, collected himself and reasoned that the driver had it coming for a long time. Not only was he of bad character; never a smile, never helpful, never gave the smallest gesture that might signal recognition; he was also dirty and smelly and did not wash. Since this was the only bus scheduled for the day there was no reason to keep waiting and as the river churned over an old rusty bicycle in the direction of the sea, Anthony walked the opposite way, back home.
It was a long time ago since Anthony had a day off during a working week, especially Ablebodyday 2, the second of the thirteen days followed by the two day break called Freekend. This only applied for the months of late spring until early autumn after which the darkness of winter forced the system to change due to the increased effects of gravity that made work so laborious and tiresome. There were just a few who were made exempt from this practise, strictly at their own risk and they took all necessary precautions to ensure the night would not cause irreversible damage to them or those they served. The Baker, Milkman and the Postal Service were men and woman greatly respected for their bravery and altruistic nature but at the same time the local population was apprehensive of ever meeting them, for surely the darkness would cause some form of metamorphosis to the human mind and body, but their children were taught that they were heroes who defied their most primeval fears facing a substance of nature which impeded and wasted so many hours of their future lives.
Anthony decided to walk back through the fields as there was no need to hurry; after all it was a sunny day. The crisp blue sky sat comfortably on the horizon and the trees in the distance wormed their way into the green surface that spread out before him. ‘What a wonderful day,’ he thought as he jumped the gate onto the land belonging to Peter Outslogh, one of the few farmers in the area who owned a gun licence and an old American Winchester rifle to keep poachers at bay. Anthony had known Peter since they were children and in those days Peter had been a lucky child, being born into a wealthy family owning many acres of land. But when his parents died in a rather unfortunate and tragic accident it seemed that Peter’s talents to run a business were not sufficient to maintain a farm the size his father and mother had left him. Over the years he had to sell pieces of land to the local government to get by financially and gradually the house resembled more a dilapidated shack than one would consider a farmhouse, although he did still keep some pigs in the yard mainly for the smell, to remind him of better days.
As Anthony approached the ramshackle building he could see Peter grappling with one of his pigs in the mud, apparently losing the battle for the sheer weight of the animal would be too much for anybody to tackle alone.
It made Anthony smile and as he got closer he wisely stepped around the muck and kept a little distance.
‘Morning, Peter,’ Anthony said.
Peter pivoted his body in the swill to face him. ‘Bugger those pigs,’ he said as he wrestled himself from underneath the grunting and clearly agitated animal. He swiftly grabbed the rifle which was perched against the wooden bench behind him and with all the force he could muster, struck the pig between the ears on the top of its head and as a result it sagged through its hoofs and crashed to the ground.
Peter wiped his hands on his dirty and drenched dungarees, ‘Murnin,’ Anthony, what brings you ’ere on this fine day?’
They both sat down on the bench and watched the pig for a little while. It was still breathing and would no doubt survive Pete’s onslaught to live another day, whereupon Anthony mentioned the previous events at the bus stop.
‘Oi ’eard summat funny’s goin’ on in town lately,’ Pete mumbled. ‘Summat to do with the new factory they want to build. Oi reckons it’s wrong to want that ’ere.’
A grunt deep from within the pig disturbed the conversation and Peter stood up to once again batter the head of the already injured and docile animal, but Anthony grabbed the arm that was ready to strike.
‘You might possibly kill it this time, Peter,’ he told his childhood friend.
‘Oi might,’ Pete replied, ‘Oi just might, but you don’t know this pig as Oi do. Oi’ll not kill it today, but one day Oi’ll kill it ’cause that’s what farmers do, Anthony.’
This attitude lay at the root of all Peter Outslogh’s problems. He much preferred to slaughter his stock than produce it and Anthony knew him too well to raise the subject. It would never make an impact and besides that, Pete’s parents had realized, he might otherwise have become a serial killer as yet unknown to mankind.
Anthony returned to their original conversation. ‘I have not heard of any plans for a factory here. What kind of factory is being proposed? It seems strange to want to build something like that here.’
‘It were rumoured the Milkman told someone only last week. Yeah, musta been ’bout 10 days ago Oi ’eard it from ol’ Trevor the tramp. ’E were lucky ’e were. Oi mistook him for a poacher and nearly put a bullet in his arse and he ’ad ’eard it from Sophie the daughter of the ferryman,’ Pete answered. ‘Made me wonder though. Oi can’t recall the Milkman ever having spoken to anyone in moi lifetime as yet. That’s why Oi were saying summat funny’s going on.’
Once again the pig grunted and Pete’s leg twitched in response.
Anthony mulled over what had been said as the increments of the early morning slid silently into a little later making the aroused curiosity in his mind imperceptibly more urgent if time were to be set against him. Pete was right of course; nobody had ever spoken to the Milkman for he was a night fighter, an owl clad in black to face the environment of heavy shadows cast by the earth itself in a mindless pirouette to the music of a great composer with a love for dissonance.
‘What kind of factory?’ Anthony asked.
‘Nobody knows; just the guv’nor is what Oi ’eard,’ Pete replied.
‘The Mayor I presume you mean,’ Anthony said quietly recalling the scene at the bus stop.
‘That’ll be yer man to ask.’ Pete stood up and prodded the pig with his rifle. The pig did not move, did not make a sound, which probably saved its life as Pete’s finger hovered over the trigger and needed only the smallest of excuses to pull it back. ‘Oi am afraid Oi got some more things to do today moi friend. Be seein’ yer later,’ he called as he walked away into the tin shed where the chickens were kept.
Anthony’s vision stretched into the distance of the morning which had started so well and now displayed the first signs of material fatigue, insignificant now, but he knew as questions accumulated, their corrosive acidity would cause an irreversible process.
Disappointed by the turn of events concerning the general structure of the day Anthony could not help feeling a little excited. Something was happing somewhere and he was a part of it; he could feel that in every fibre of his body. The fact that he had been a witness to the bus incident and the subsequent story Peter had told him made him an associate of whatever would happen next. With that thought Anthony decided he would not go home and briskly walked back in the direction of the river Tine to pay Sophie a visit. Maybe she knew more about the factory or what the Milkman had said. As he jumped the gate for the second time that morning Anthony heard the sharp crack of a rifle firing. He sincerely hoped it was a chicken; the pig did not deserve to die just yet.
ABLEBODY DAY 2
June 16, 9:30 - 12:10, 1959
To get to Sophie, Anthony had to make his way to the ferryman, which meant following the river for about a mile and a half downstream from the bus stop where he had been earlier that morning. A light breeze picked up from the west suggesting there might be a hole in the sky surrounding the village but hard as he tried he could find no visual evidence that this might be the case.
Strictly speaking the ferryman did not live in a house, he lived in two halves of a house separated by the river Tine. A long time ago his ancestor, a carpenter, built a home in the woods which covered most of the area to be in the direct vicinity of the material they needed to exploit their business and within a few months they had successfully chopped away a large number of trees surrounding their dwelling. One generation later the former clearance in the wood had become a desolate bracken stretch of land and more effort was put into getting materials to the workshop than producing the goods they could sell. Within a few years the once so thriving business spiraled into a poverty-stricken household where father and mother could do nothing more than feed their children off crops stolen from the fields that surrounded them. It did not feel like stealing for they reasoned it was their efforts that had laid the land bare to be farmed by the eager newcomers with their grimy hands and stocky bodies. As the farms flourished around them their solitude increased with every season’s crop harvested until the family were not seen again during daytime but it was whispered they roamed the night, spades slung over bony shoulders casting moonlight shadows onto the fertile clay.
For many, the disaster of 1842 had dire consequences. Heavy serrated clouds gathered on the horizon during the late afternoon, accumulating enough downward force to reach the surface of the earth and in doing so disturbed the fragile joint between blue and green in the distance. A silver flash and rolling thunder initiated a tremor, followed by a jolt which knocked everyone off their feet who happened to be standing and as the deep continuous rumble gathered momentum it became apparent that something had woken nature’s anger. With incredible force, a fifty-yard wide tidal wave tore up the landscape leaving behind a snaking torrent of water containing all that it swallowed in its path. The river Tine had found a route to the sea and it was just very bad luck that the outskirts of the village Son happened to be in the way.
The following morning the full extend of the catastrophe horrified the local community. Where once the lush fields stretched out for as far as the eye could see a murky grey mass of water twisted its way from east to west dividing the world in two.
In the first instance the carpenter’s family were believed to be the worst off as their house had been split in half, one part standing on the northern bank, the other on the southern bank. With the little timber he had left the carpenter constructed a boat, boarded up both open sides of the house and ferried across the water many times a day to make full use of his home in these bizarre new circumstances and as a result, many farmers whose land had been separated realised the importance of the one and only crossing, readily paying a Quarter for a ticket ‘Overthere later Overhere,’ overcoming their initial apprehension in relation to the carpenter’s shady past. According to local history it did not take long before the ferryman became one of the most amicable personalities in the area since everybody who wished to make use of his services had to pass through his house which could not be left without having a steaming hot cup of tea and hearing a tale of his adventures in the dark.
Jim O’Focksle, sixth generation ferryman, never changed these traditions and after greeting Anthony he led him into the spacious living room where large windows granted a splendid view across the water onto the rest of the building.
‘Cup of tea before sailing Anthony?’ Jim beamed as he ushered Anthony towards the solid oak table.
‘Yes please, but no sailing today, Jim. I would actually like a word with Sophie if I may,’ Anthony replied.
Jim pushed his hands deep in his corduroy trouser pockets and threw a daggered glance his way. ‘What is it you want from her then, Anthony? No marriage proposal I guess because she is still as ungainly as ever, although we did catch her in bed on the other side of the river with a young man from town a few days ago.’
‘No, no,’ Anthony quickly interrupted. ‘It is something that she heard someone say the other week and I would like to know if she can tell me more.’
‘Good,’ Jim answered. ‘For all I know the little bastard is still searching for a way back from the other side because I’ll be damned if I am going to do it.’
Jim picked up the phone and ordered a large pot of tea, milk, biscuits and the company of his daughter.
Anthony watched the river roll by, the current rippling dents in the smooth surface forever changing its skin in a continuous effort to mask its true identity of so much more than just carrying water to the sea. Here and there little bubbles came up for air but he knew that in all its history there was never a fish caught in these waters.
‘Ah, they’ll be here soon,’ Jim said.
Anthony saw two figures climbing into the ferry and as soon as they sat down Jim pulled a large brass lever that was fed through the floorboards of the room which started a cacophony of chains rattling under the house pulling the boat towards them.
‘Isn’t it astounding that this old machinery still defies the supremacy of our river after all these years?’ Jim shouted. ‘It takes a lot of maintenance and considering the nature of the water it is a wonder I can keep up with it at all.’
As the ferry gently ran aground the appalling noise under their feet subsided and shortly afterwards mother and daughter bustled into the room, the latter precariously balancing a tray with crockery in her hands. Jim had not been lying. The pretty frock Sophie wore was in stark contrast with her unattractive facial features, nor could it conceal the disproportional manner the rest of her body was constructed. She did however have one beautiful blue eye; the other was brown and slanted a little.
Whilst the tea was poured by the buxom Mrs. O’Focksle, Jim asked what Anthony might want to know from his daughter and Sophie giggled sheepishly.
Anthony directed his question at Sophie. ‘I was told that about a week ago someone spoke to you of a new factory to be built in the vicinity of our village. I would very much like to know if you know any more about this.’
Sophie blushed which actually improved her looks a little and the grave silence that followed meant her parents were suddenly devoted listeners too.
‘I beg your pardon, Anthony,’ Jim whispered. ‘Are you sure someone would have said such a thing to our daughter?’
‘That by itself wouldn’t be so bad,’ Anthony answered, ‘but the initial source seems to be the Milkman.’
If the silence from before was anything to go by the vacuum caused by this statement instantly sucked the air from the room and no sound was transmitted for a painfully long time.
After a while it was Mrs. O’Focksle who spoke first. ‘The Milkman does not speak to the likes of us. There can be no truth to this.’
Jim turned to his daughter, ‘Is there any truth to this little madam?’
Sophie blushed even more, betraying her non-communicative attitude.
‘Is there any truth in this, I ask you again for the last time, Sophie?’ Jim threatened.
Sophie seemed even more ill at ease now but refused to consider answering. This time Jim did not even think about repeating the question. He pulled back his chair, grabbed Sophie around her waist and threw her belly down on his lap. In one fluid motion he had lifted her dress and tore down her pretty pink knickers revealing her little buttery white buttocks and proceeded to spank her until she screamed out that it had been the boy she met not so long ago. She had heard it from him.
Jim carefully rearranged her clothing and sat her back down in her own chair.
‘And from whom might this young man have heard it?’ Jim asked his daughter quietly.
With the back of her hand Sophie wiped her blue eye clear from tears; the brown one seemed not to be affected; and regaining her awkward deportment said, ‘From his father, The Milkman.’
Inaudibly the morning exploded into a million shards of crystal clear pieces and restored itself a split second later, adjusting the parameters to accommodate the configuration of the afternoon.
There was no doubt that all the adults around the table were thinking of one thing only; The Milkman had a son, therefore he had a wife, which altered the pre-conceived ideas surrounding this extraordinary figure.
‘Did the boy by any chance happen to mention where he lives?’ Anthony asked as if nothing had happened.
Sophie looked up, ‘He lives in town, quite close to the market square, where he sells cheese on 2nd Freekend Day every week. That is what he told me.’
Anthony knew Sophie referred to Cornbridge Town, a lively place about three miles west on the other side of the river Tine, where on Midwinter Night the square would be brightly lit by thousands of halogen lamps to celebrate the turning of the season, defying black matter, and consequentially the brave participants would not feel well for a couple of days. For years Anthony had set his mind to visit this festive occasion but somehow his courage ebbed away as the actual day crept closer in the weeks leading up to it.
Although Anthony did press on with a few more questions it was obvious Sophie had exhausted her knowledge concerning the young man. There was no address, but Jim had given a good description of his looks -- blond, about 5 foot 10 inches tall, blue eyes, and of this he was in no doubt whatsoever -- circumcised.
Anthony quickly calculated it would take him about an hour to walk the three miles to Cornbridge Town, another hour to return which would give him about eight hours before sunset. Perhaps it would be better to wait until market day, his thoughts continued; he could then target the young lad at his cheese stall which made more sense than trying to get lucky on the off-chance today.
‘The Milkman would not have told his son if he did not think anyone else should know,’ Jim concluded. ‘There must be more to this than meets the eye.’
‘Exactly my point of view,’ Anthony replied and went on to tell the ferryman what had happened earlier that day.
‘I heard the bus coming by this morning and can remember thinking it was going rather fast but thought the driver, the miserable sod, was in a worse mood than he usually is,’ Jim said. ‘I know for a fact that he drops my clientele more than a mile from here for no particular reason. Maybe this will sort him out.’
‘I am sure it won’t unless they killed him. We shall have to see if the bus returns this afternoon,’ Anthony sighed. ‘Since it passes by here would you be able to let me know, Jim?’
The ferryman answered positively and Anthony got up from his chair to signal it was time to go.
‘Thank you for your help, Sophie. You, too, Jim; and thank you very much for the tea and biscuits, Mrs. O’Focksle but I must make a move. I have much to think about and I shall let you know of my findings as I progress. It is all very exciting and odd what is happening but I am sure the Milkman left a signal to be picked up and whether we like it or not, we are the ones who found it.’ Anthony shook hands with Jim, wished him well and left the building, or to be more precise, he left half of the building.
Flaunton Road, otherwise known as the AB4B, ran from East to West parallel to the river from Flaunton to Cornbridge Town and Anthony, who had just set off from the ferryman’s house, passed Tine Street on his right which was one way to get home but it would lead him past the cemetery and crematorium along Tally Avenue. Instead he followed the main road for another mile and walked up Deepcut Road which eventually led by his house and onto the T junction with Son Street, the main road in the village which accommodated all the shops that could be found here but Anthony did not have to go that far. His home was situated about three quarters of the way up Deepcut Road just after where Tally Avenue turned right to return to Tine Street. On his left Anthony caught a glimpse of Murphy Lawson who was on his knees on his meticulous lawn, apparently inspecting the grass in the middle of the process of deciding to cut it or not. On closer inspection this was not the case. He was holding a copiously bleeding thumb to his chest. The secateurs that had obviously caused the cut lay next to him on the lawn.
‘Are you okay, Murphy?’ asked Anthony as he walked across the road.
‘Oh, hello, Anthony. I believe I am but I seem to have rather hurt my thumb. You know, I have never ever cut myself with secateurs before but I suppose it had to happen sometime. Inevitable really; as one lives long enough the chances of it occurring increase all the time and I suppose today was the day it chose to do so,’ Murphy replied, wrapping his injured thumb in a white handkerchief he pulled from his pocket. ‘No matter how careful you are Anthony, things will always go wrong.’ The blood stained a rose pattern on the white linen as he spoke. ‘And always when you least expect it.’
Despite his eighty-two years Murphy had a full head of grey hair, which was more than Anthony could claim, already balding on top having only just added another year to his forty-three last month.
‘I once dislocated my shoulder after slipping in the bath,’ Murphy continued, ‘and then severed the artery in my arm as I fell through the shower pane and struck my head on the wash basin, causing even more havoc. Now that was a lot of blood, Anthony, and it was jolly unfortunate but again, it was bound to happen to someone sometime. I was very proud that incident involved me. I mean although I was in a pretty sorry state, how many people can say that that happened to them. I even broke my jaw.
The handkerchief was already sodden with blood. ‘You had better get that looked at, Murphy,’ Anthony said as red drops started to stain the grass.
‘No, certainly not. This is just a superficial little nick, nothing Polly can’t fix,’ Murphy defended himself. ‘She is a little wonder with the old plasters and iodine. She has patched me up so many times being the accident-prone fellow that I am.’
Polly had married Murphy in 1898. She fell for him as he had fallen from the ladder propped up against the balcony of her bedroom breaking his shin and she was impressed when he gritted his teeth, his left lower leg sticking out at a weird angle as he apologised quickly and hopped a mile back home.
Anthony had seen photographs of the couple when they were young and both of them had been pretty people in the years before the lines in their faces had set like engravings on plaques boasting of achievements in the past. He remembered his mother and himself being invited for 2st Freekend Day lunch regularly when he was a child, mainly because Polly Lawson was a much better cook than his mother.
‘There you are, Murphy,’ Polly called as she walked out of the house. ‘Hello, Anthony. Have you witnessed another little misfortune regarding my husband’s calamitous approach to gardening as he does everything else? Let me have a look at that hand of yours, Murphy.’ Polly continued walking towards her spouse. ‘It is getting worse you know, Anthony. I can hardly leave him on his own for just a little while nowadays without him hurting himself.’
Anthony did not answer as Polly helped Murphy to his feet and inspected the injured thumb. ‘Goodness, that will need stitching up, Murphy,’ Polly said. We are not going to get away with just a plaster today, love.’
Murphy winced at the thought but at the same time Anthony detected a little excitement around the corners of the old man’s mouth.
‘If ever you find a woman, Anthony, I very much hope for your sake that it will be someone like my Polly,’ Murphy smiled. ‘Men need to be taken care of around here. Danger lurks where we least expect it and one day it will lash out at you young man, perhaps just a little paper cut at first, but then fate will turn against you and the laws of probability mount up to inflict as much discomfort as it possibly can.’
Murphy yelped as his wife prodded the wound with her finger.
Polly had been the doctor’s assistant during her working life and in many respects Murphy was an ideal partner, supplying her with ample opportunity to gather a mass of experience in first aid within a relatively short space of time. It did not take the General Practitioner long to appoint Polly to A&E duties around the village, relieving himself to get on with smoking forty Gauloise cigarettes a day behind his huge desk while signing prescriptions for patients who thought they were ill. This meant that Polly was one of the few people in the vicinity to have the use of a car to get around the rural area surrounding Son upon Tine in order to attend incidents usually involving farming equipment. Anthony knew the car was kept in the garage at the side of the house; it was still in immaculate condition, for Polly and Murphy took great pride in polishing the red bodywork which had been frequently out on drives, especially on sunny days when the retired couple would reminisce over lost limbs and dreadful accidents.
‘How is your house coming along?’ Polly asked Anthony. ‘We haven’t heard the noise of heavy machinery coming from your direction since John Peabody lost his dog.’
It occurred to Anthony that as people grew older dates became less important but were referred to as something that had happened, which made conversation rather complicated not having experienced the intimacy of the details mentioned.
‘Rather well, Polly; still busy, but there is light at the end of the tunnel,’ Anthony replied, ignoring the imprecision of his answer and not wishing to go into details concerning his personal life.
By now the sight of all the blood made Anthony feel nauseated and he was relieved that Polly tugged at Murphy’s arm to coax him back into the house where she would no doubt have him fixed up in a jiffy.
‘I shall have to take care of this straight away I am afraid, Anthony,’ Polly said as they walked towards the house.
‘Take care,’ Murphy added.
Just before they reached the house Anthony thought he saw Polly’s foot trying to trip up Murphy, who stumbled but regained his balance just in time. Otherwise he would have nosedived down the concrete steps that led to the front door.
‘You see, Anthony,’ Murphy called. ‘If you are not careful anything can happen at any time.’
As Anthony took his hand from the wooden fence surrounding the Lawson’s garden he felt a sharp pain in his palm and at a glance saw a huge splinter had pierced his skin, withdrawing a tiny drop of reddest blood. He quickly removed the slither of wood and sucked the tiny wound it had left behind, cursing his clumsiness and resumed making his way home, which he could already see about a fifty yards further up the road.
The sun penetrated the blue-glazed dome of the sky with rays of nuclear particles, lifting the temperature to its peak for the day and Anthony wished for a T-shirt and shorts rather than the grey Herringbone suit he had put on in the morning and it annoyed him that the leather rim in his bowler hat would display salty stains of sweat from his forehead as a result of his ramblings during the past hours. He carefully pushed open the gate to his garden and at that very moment caught sight of a young man sitting on the steps of his house, apparently waiting for him.
June 15, 8:30 - 10:00, 1959
Mark Miworth Caerphilly’s perspective
The desk in the office was a jumble of paperwork and as usual his secretary would have piled on several more files earlier that morning to be signed, looked at or simply binned depending on their urgency. With a grumble of intense irritation Mark set the entire weight of his obese body onto the squeaking leather chair, picked up his fountain pen and rolled his eyes over the enormous amount of responsibilities scattered in front of him. Like many who had sat in this chair before him, he had initially been a very conscientious man, taking great care not to make any mistakes, securing his position and consolidating it until retirement would guarantee a handsome income and a home far away from this place where he could enjoy the later stages of life, preferably abroad where nobody would recognise him. Mark Miworth Caerphilly knew from the outset that the nature of his job would not supply him with many friends and as the years passed the few he did have decided to tolerate his company rather than face the consequences by speaking their minds. In the beginning Mark thought of it as a burden, an inherent aspect of decisions he had to make regarding his vision of the future but later, much later, he found it to be a soothing reassurance not having to explain the complicated structures of politics to achieve results at the relatively low cost of losing a few friends.
‘Angela,’ he barked in the direction of the door. ‘Where is my coffee?’
Almost immediately she burst into the office taking tiny little paces forced by wearing very high-heeled shoes but moving swiftly nonetheless and hastily moved some papers aside to reveal a steaming cup underneath.
‘I am sorry, Mr. Miworth. It has been a bit of a madhouse this morning,’ she explained. ‘The courier brought more than usual and I am still sorting post for you at this moment.’
Mark Miworth Caerphilly’s eyes slid fervently over Angela’s perfect little body, demanding more senses than they could muster, following her lovely curves like a trickle of thick oil captured by gravity on naked skin. Mark needed a shot of testosterone more than coffee early in the morning to get him going.
‘Before you carry on with the post I want you to get the Committee of Wise Men in my office straight away for a meeting and order plenty of sandwiches because it will take up most of the morning,’ Mark snorted. ‘And call the NTST* chief to make himself available too. Now move your little arse out of here and sort it, Angela.’
‘Certainly, Mr. Miworth,’ Angela responded whilst turning towards the door and lifting her middle finger out of his direct field of vision. She despised her boss in a manner she could not possibly do anyone else. He epitomised everything she hated about men: his open lecherous sexual glances, the continuous innuendos and his predisposition to believe that every woman would want to sleep with him. It was something that Angela had learned to cope with but it still made her shiver as she distinctly felt his burning gaze on her bottom as she made her way to her desk just outside his office.
Within the hour the committee had made their way to Mark’s office and had taken seats around the solid oak conference table, shortly followed by NTST chief Alan Constable, a robust and tall moustachioed man in a black uniform with a stature not very often seen in that part of the country. The Committee of Wise Men on the other hand comprised of two hollow-eyed, anaemic, meagre middle-aged individuals, who answered to the names of Bernard and Bellamy, who could have been twins were it not for having different mothers, and Benjamin, a promising talented bright lad in his twenties.
‘My dearest colleagues,’ Mark started, ‘this meeting will be held in the strictest of confidence and none what is said at this table today must ever reach anyone outside this room unless I state otherwise. I hope I can entrust you all with this level of confidentiality.’
Mark waited for a nod from all the participants before continuing.
‘As you are all aware of the financial situation I do not have to explain that I am looking for means to turn the current state of affairs to a more prosperous future than the one currently projected by the treasury. You are also fully aware of the plans that are being drawn up by me to make this possible through investors who have shown great interest in acquiring a large plot of land within the parish borders of Son upon Tine. I have suggested to you all that the planning committee must accept the conditions and proposals without all the details becoming available to the general public and I would dearly like to take it even a step further for reasons of securing the deal. The investors, whom we shall refer to as a Foreign Multi National, have, after a lot of research, found that the banks of the river Tine, and in particular in the area of Son upon Tine, is the ideal location for their business enterprise. It seems that the element they are looking for is in great abundance between grid references 01702 and 01703 on the surveillance map provided in front of you. The final offer made by the company has exceeded our wildest expectations and would change the poverty of this region forever. But gentleman, we must tread carefully not to lose the deal through opposition of the public. Money can buy a lot but it will not buy trust of those who are apprehensive and I have heard that the first seeds of doubt are being sown as we speak.
‘So whatever has passed through these chambers over the last weeks has already found its way into the local grapevine where it will not serve us well and could jeopardise the entire operation. There is a lot of money at stake here, more than we can possibly imagine, but more importantly than that, our names will always be associated with the outcome of this project so let us grab this chance, this single opportunity to leave a mark by being intelligent enough to let it succeed. Do you all understand what I mean?’ Mark spoke softly. ‘Are we catching the drift?’ he said a little louder.
‘I believe I do,’ Alan Constable interrupted Mark.
‘And you three Wise Men, do you understand the implications?’ Mark cut in and raised his voice as he leaned towards them. ‘Do you really grasp where we have to go from here?’
Mark emphasized his question by crashing his chubby and meaty fist on the surface of the table causing the two terrified grey men to imply they fully understood what he meant.
‘We cannot keep information from the public but we can make an effort to sell the product in a prettier package than it initially came in,’ Alan sighed. ‘We will not deceive our constituency. I would whole-heartedly disagree with anything like that, but we must get the support from the people to ensure that we strike up the deal rather than Flaunton or Tine on Sea because after all we have the best location. Let us use that advantage.’
Mark fell silent for a little while and waited.
‘If that is the case,’ Benjamin Young stammered slightly, ‘I assume I shall have to redress the technical specifications for the Planning Committee who will meet for the first time over this issue next week.’
‘Exactly,’ Mark grinned. ‘I have consulted the board of directors of the investment group and they have come up with a booklet as part of the public relations campaign which will make your mouth water.’ He slapped a number of weighty full- colour brochures on the table. ‘This is what we are going to work with,’ Mark ordered and gestured to his colleagues to pick one up.
The cover displayed a photograph of the river Tine backed by the rural landscape they all knew so well, with the bluest of skies encapsulating the bold white words: Your future, our destiny, and in smaller typography just underneath: Together we shall prosper.
Alan Constable was the first to flick through the pages. ‘This is of extraordinary quality, Mr. Miworth,’ he said. ‘I am sure it will change the character of the operation all together.’
‘I do wish you would not call it an operation,’ Bernard replied sternly from the other side of the table. His fellow companions looked up quite shocked by this unusual out-of-character remark. ‘It should not be a military mission, not a manoeuvre or even a campaign although I find all the indicators within this document pointing in that direction. It is uncompromisingly deceitful, devious and fraudulent; a blatant lie to sell what is the soul of the community to an unknown entity for personal gain and fame without having a clue what the long term effects might be for an area we don’t even know the size of.’
Mark had not counted on this. His mind struggled with the unexpected implications he was suddenly faced with and failing to intervene, gave Bellamy the opportunity to gather enough courage to have his say.
‘Not only do we ignore the well being of our population by bringing in technology we have never heard of, but do we know anything about the effects extracting the element will have on the equilibrium of our environment? There is no mention what it is they have found, nobody knows what it does, and as far as I am concerned, nobody will tell us either. That is a pretty insubstantial basis for me to sign any document making me accountable for something I have no knowledge of whatsoever and promising that your future is our destiny and together we shall prosper is an appalling piece of marketing that reeks of autocracy to avoid getting real information to real people who will have to live with the consequences of our actions. I do not want to be a part of this indigestible nonsense. Your future, our destiny, don’t make me laugh, our future, your destiny should be the title, Mr. Miworth Caerphilly!’
Bellamy and Bernard had not been able to restrain their thoughts and having vented an enormous amount of frustration accumulated over the past years, they were now the prime target of Mark’s seething anger.
‘I will not tolerate such stupidity!’ Mark’s voice boomed through the office. ‘The time and effort put into this project will not fail because a couple of old- fashioned gits are incapable of putting their brains into a higher gear.’ Mark’s face turned red, his hands were trembling and the fat surrounding his frame heaved with every word he spat out.
‘The personal risks I have taken to achieve getting this far, traveling abroad and investing a vast sum of my own savings, will not be wasted because you’- he pointed a livid finger in the direction of the two men- ‘You cowards are not brave enough to put your careers on the line like I have done. If this is the way you think you are of any use to any of us then, well fuck it, you are so very, very wrong. You seem to forget who got you here in the first place.’
It was clear Mark was losing control and as spittle collected on his lower lip the barrage of explosive words continued to rain down on the shell-shocked men.
‘Do you two have any idea how this bloody world works? I don’t fucking think so! You give a little and you take a little; that is how we all get by. That is the essence of politics. It is the timing of giving and taking that makes it tick and apparently I am the only one here who seems capable of recognising these sparse moments in fucking time. I pay you a damn good wage to be aware of this. You’re supposed to be bloody professionals, and what do you do? You sit back and throw shit in my face the moment you are supposed to grab the chances that I am giving you. Well thank you very fucking much.’
Mark relaxed a little after this tirade and placed his hands on the table, tilting his upper corpulent body towards the cowering men who barely dared look up to face him.
‘I think we are done,’ Mark continued in his usual tone of voice, realising there was no turning back. ‘I have always put the greatest of trust in both of you but what can I do? You have left me with very little choice now that you have made it very clear where you stand.’ Mark turned to Alan Constable. ‘Get them the fuck out of here. I don’t ever want to see them again. I shall have a word in private with Benjamin now.’ He pulled his trousers over his invisible waist, tucked his white shirt back into them and set the entire weight of his obese body back onto the squeaking leather chair. ‘Now then, Benjamin, where did we leave off?’ he said.
Alan Constable forcibly led Bellamy and Bernard down the stairs much further into the belly of the building than they had ever been before and although they had worked here all their lives, they had no knowledge of the sparingly lit underground levels and tunnels they were made to walk through. It was cold, damp and dirty and Bellamy had counted at least twelve flights of metal stairs since seeing daylight at ground level.
‘Where are we going?’ he asked Alan, who had no problems finding his way through the maze before him.
Alan did not answer but just pushed them along until they arrived in a small dark hallway with a solid steel door flanked by two uniformed men guarding the entrance, or exit, depending on the perspective they took.
‘Open up, guys,’ Alan addressed them. ‘It has been a while but these two have just been demoted.’
The uniformed man on the left took a large shiny key from a hook on the wall and inserted it into the door, turning it effortlessly clockwise after which the door silently opened supported on solid well-oiled hinges to reveal the brightly lit hall immediately followed by the immense sound emitted from hundreds of typewriters placed on hundreds of desks which were manned by hundreds of people just like Bellamy and Bernard; grey, middle-aged and possibly even more anaemic.
Alan shoved them into the hall. ‘Welcome to your new place of work. You have successfully applied for the job of clerk.’ With that the door was slammed shut behind them, locked and the key was put back on the hook on the wall.
‘Keep an eye on those two for a while,’ Alan said to the men in the hall. ‘They went further than most.’ With large steps and at a great pace he made his way back up the stairs as if he were in a hurry.
‘The trouble with improvising in politics is that there is no plan. There might be a goal, but to get there without a clear strategy is a dangerous path that can trip you up and spoil a lot of good work,’ Mark told Benjamin in a quiet voice. ‘It would be much like a game of football knowing you have to put the ball past the keeper to score, having ten very fit individuals to do just that but who do not want to work as a team to achieve a victory. Their coach would have invested a lot of time in analysing their opponent’s weaknesses as well as their strengths. When there is no cohesion, the total sum of talent available will not come to fruition to execute the tactics. I had hoped to put together a strong team, the best available, but I was wrong. Two of your colleagues had different views than I envisaged and rendered themselves inadequate.
‘Now consider my position at this moment. I had a sound plan up until this morning and it will possibly still work, but I am in search for a truthful answer from you. Benjamin, how on earth do I assess your loyalty now that I am having to improvise.’
Mark tactfully fell silent for a little while suggesting he awaited a response from the visibly shaken young man who scratched the back of his hand drawing pink parallel lines on white skin as if to relieve himself from a severe itch.
‘I can spot talent a mile away,’ Mark continued. ‘You have great potential. I can see that and I wish to have you on board because you are intelligent, not only in the work you do but you also have political insight, something that many lack in their profession. I have seen the way you pave your path to success by massaging away points of stress within public opinion, easing cramped tendencies and then swerving around issues that might induce situations where any progress might be hampered. Those are the qualities I appreciate, Benjamin, and I think you have a great future ahead of you, especially if we consider the opportunities that have arisen lately, but you must be willing to accept the challenge. What I am saying is, that in order for us to be victorious we have to be the team that will go the extra mile, that take the necessary steps to realize the result, not only for the community as a whole, but also for the sake of the responsibilities we hold. I have constructed this plan for the good of us all. I can see the future far beyond these first steps and I promise you it is bright and beautiful, for you, for me and for everybody who live in this area, for we are sitting on a gold mine and all we have to do is dig it up.’
Mark looked at Benjamin’s hand; the pink scratches had turned bright red. With a fatherly gesture Mark placed his chubby fingers on the agitated skin to stop Benjamin drawing blood. ‘So,’ he continued, ‘what is it going to be, son?’
Benjamin looked up nervously and knew he had no choice in the matter, ‘Tell me Mr. Miworth Caerphilly, what is it you would like me to do exactly?’
June 15, 10:15 – 12:00, 1959
After dismissing Benjamin, Mark took the opportunity to assess the events of the morning and mentally archived the resulting actions to be taken in order of importance. The systematic arranging of these activities and notes were inherent to his job and over the years he had become a master of prophylaxis, maximising damage control to levels that could only be referred to as a talent out of all proportion.
With a sigh of relief he pushed himself out of the leather chair and walked to the window overlooking the market square. From his vantage point, the office building threw crisp dark shadows across the cobblestones down below in tones of translucent purple, clawing their way back from where they had been earlier in the day. Mark loved the view from there, the top floor above all the other offices where men and women dedicated their work in support of his vision of Cornbridge Town. He took a cigar from the wooden box in the window ledge, carefully clipped the end and lit it with one of the many lighters he had been given during his career and blew little grey puffs of smoke against the blue sky before him. The smell of Havana tobacco filled his nostrils and eased his thoughts a little. It had after all been a hectic morning, but upon reflection it could prove to be a favourable twist in procedures. If anyone could seize an opportunity it was Mark and he could feel from the tickle in his fleshy belly that there were plenty of possibilities to reroute the current plan onto a fast track with possibly less resistance than first expected. Through the smoke he caught a wry smile in the reflecting glass of a man who was pleased with himself; it was just a case of adjusting focus. And with that image printed on his mind, he tugged at his trousers, tucked his shirt in and called for Angela.
Angela knew it was going to be a tough morning. She recognised it immediately as she walked in by the way he had slung his fat calve on the desk, the self indulgent look on his face whilst emitting smoke into the office and the way his body slouched and crept into every little crevice of his chair.
‘Angela, my dear,’ Mark said as he stared at her breasts, ‘it is a great morning to do great things. Please take the following notes to go out as newsletter to the Chief Executive Officers of all departments.’
Angela sat down taking great care her skirt covered as much of her legs as possible knowing that the tiniest glimpse of her thighs would trigger the most depraving sexual remarks one could wish for.
‘Certainly, Mr. Miworth,’ Angela said a little uncomfortably, placing her notebook on her lap.
A little disappointed with the way Angela had sat down, Mark started to dictate.
It may have come to your attention that in the past few weeks we have been taking necessary steps to stabilise the council’s financial situation through early retirement of some of your colleagues. This action will alleviate some of the pressure we are currently facing but I must stress that although we are taking all necessary precautions, it may be inevitable that some positions are at risk to be made redundant. This morning the first of these measures have been effectuated and two of our most loyal workers, Bellamy Tomrow and Bernard Cowsgate, decided to leave our establishment on their own accord, taking responsibility for what they considered “justifiable personal decisions in very difficult times”. It is with great regret that I have honoured their wishes to leave but I can understand their motivations.
As a result the Committee of Wise Men, in the first instance formed to advise me on financial matters and secondly to formulate ideas and generate income from new sources has now been left on the sole shoulders of Benjamin Young.
To address the new situation I invite you all for a meeting in Conference Hall One on Ablebodyday 6, at 9:00 to discuss matters in depth and to put forward a proposal drawn up by Benjamin Young to be forwarded to the planning committee concerning the sale of a plot of land at the river near Son Upon Tine with the intention of changing the designation from agricultural to industrial land.
Benjamin Young is a highly appreciated member of our council and has been a representative councillor for the parish of Son upon Tine for some years now and it is therefore logical that he will communicate with the parish in question about the plans we are to discuss later on in the week.
Attached to this newsletter you will find a preliminary draught outlining Planning, Planning Application, the Decision-Making Process and Conditions and Obligations. We shall aim to grant permission to the conditions specified, give specific approval for the aspects of development and we will give sound reasons for the conditions if and when we find agreement across the board in all departments dealing with matters directly related to this subject.’
The leather chair squeaked as Mark clenched his buttocks and allowed himself an investigative look at Angela’s long slender fingers jotting down the unintelligible language of shorthand. He sucked hard at the cigar and rolled out a floating carpet of smoke between himself and Angela.
Angela recognised the signals. He would get up now lowering his leg from the desk, extinguish his cigar and make his way behind her where she could not see him but he would be close, much to close for comfort, only a matter of inches from where she could smell the stale odour of dried sweat combined with notes of cheap aftershave and expensive tobacco. As Mark took his position Angela felt a tight knot in her stomach and she could not help her hand shaking a little as a result of the intimidating nature of Mark’s invisible presence. The shaking would go, Angela knew that; it was a question of waiting for fear to be replaced with the usual anger as soon as he would place his hands on the back of her chair. A hardly noticeable stretching of the material supporting her spine suggested his fingers had indeed grasped the chair somewhere just above her shoulders and she braced herself for the usual, ‘You are in particularly fine shape today, Angela,’ to be whispered from his mouth.
At that moment the solid and sturdy ring of the telephone filled the office. Mark quickly paced back to his to his desk and lifted the horn off the dull black base where a little red light flickered with urgency indicating an outside call judged to be of some importance by the girls on the switchboard.
‘Mark Miworth Caerphilly.’
‘Yes. Hello, how are you?’
Whoever it was, Angela was thankful and pulled her skirt another eighth of an inch down to make sure she was doing everything to conceal as much of her body as possible. She was probably the only person in the borough who longed for cold winter days despite the darkness that came with it. Mark had turned away from her and stood facing the window.
‘We are currently in the process of initiating the first plans as a draught to go out for approval by the entire council this week after which we shall draw up the final documents for planning permission early next month,’ Mark continued.
Angela heard the metallic sound of inaudible words like soft marbles singing in a tin can reflected from the side of Mark’s skull.
‘Yes we are aware of that and you can rest assured that I can see no problems there. We have a good man on the case and as you know, I am personally involved in overseeing the day-to-day running of things.’
‘No, no question of that either. Basically there are three small barriers to overcome which Planning Obligations state. We must prescribe the nature of development, which is being done at this very moment and it will of course be supported by the information you have sent me. Then there is the matter of compensation where I can see no problem whatsoever considering the generous offer you have already made, but the mitigation, the development impact having to be directly relevant to the proposed development might be a small hurdle to take seeing the nature of the current location as it is. But these are matters we can control.’
‘There is as a matter of fact. I would like some information on the element you have encountered and it would be appreciated if I have some insight into what makes it so special. I know it is beyond what I can technically grasp but I have to have something I can understand in layman’s terms to convey to my colleagues if you understand what I mean.’
Angela heard more canned nonsense being emitted from the horn.
‘That would be great. I look forward to receiving that shortly then. Thank you very much and we will be speaking soon.’
Mark placed the horn back on its base, looked up at Angela and for a microscopic particle of a crumbling second he fantasised what it would be like to sleep with her, then gathered his thoughts and said, ‘You are in particularly fine shape today Angela.’
Not very far away from Mark and Angela, one floor down, Benjamin Young knew he was in trouble as he desperately tried to concentrate on the work before him. For the first time in his life he could see the turmoil caused by his decisions spiralling out of control, affecting his personal life in ways he could not possibly have expected. It would not just involve himself; his family would also be drawn into the melee of lies and deceit he had learned to live with as a young politician. The main problem was how to contain the information he had told his father before it would swing back and ruin his career. Benjamin knew Mark would stop at nothing to achieve his goals and if that meant making casualties and inflicting damage he would do so even to the likes of his father who held a very unusual position within the community, so unusual that the family never spoke of his work.
For now he decided to concentrate on the plan he was writing. He would have to talk in private with his father as soon as he got home as there was nothing he could do about it here in the offices of Cornbridge Town Council.
ABLEBODYDAYS 2 AND 3
June 16 - June17, 12:10 – 02:00, 1959
As soon as the young man heard the opening of the gate he sprung to his feet and hastily met Anthony half way up the garden path.
‘Are you Anthony who has been to visit Sophie this morning?’ he asked slightly out of breath as if he had been running earlier.
‘Yes I am,’ Anthony replied, desperately wanting to get out of the sun. And you are?’
‘Joseph. Sophie’s father has sent me here,’ the young man said,’ and I got here as quickly as I could.’
‘Well then, Joseph, what can I do for you?’ Anthony asked as he walked past the young man to open the door, longing for a large glass of cool water.
‘It is not so much about what you can do for me; Sophie’s father told me you were looking for me. I am the Milkman’s son.’
This remark stopped Anthony dead in his tracks and he took the opportunity to have a good look at this lad, forgetting the uncomfortable suit which was now pressing his shirt onto his clammy torso like a membrane causing osmotic pressure, soaking his entire upper body.
Anthony had not expected the young man to be handsome or good looking in any way because the perception he had of his father was one of a dark cloaked figure living in the shadows hiding scars inflicted by the nature of his work. Unless the Milkman had fathered a child with a woman of extraordinary beauty he would have to reconsider the images formed over the years concerning this unusual character.
Joseph was more a boy than a man, rather like the Greek sculptors depicted their young men in shiny marble, shrouded with a fine quality of innocence and virtuousness in perfect proportion, flawless and rippling with youthful energy just beneath the surface of their skin. Anthony guessed him to be 21 years old and around 6 feet tall, and felt a little jealous of the idyllic body this boy was living in though at the same time a little sad that it would perish into the degenerating process of adulthood chasing after him.
Anthony took a small bunch of keys from his trouser pockets and opened the front door to his house.
‘Joseph, I am very glad to meet you; do come in. I would like to have a word with you about some strange things I have been hearing of late and I am sure you can be of help.’ Anthony smiled as he took off his hat, placing it on the hook in the hall. ‘Take a seat over there in the living room.’ He pointed through the door to the left of them. ‘I shall get rid of this suit and be with you shortly.’
As Anthony hurriedly climbed the stairs to get changed Joseph chose a large Chesterfield chair close to the large windows looking out on the front lawn and sat down. The room was lit by the ample light from outside and Joseph noted that the bright tonal qualities of the space he occupied was carefully orchestrated by a series of large mirrors hung on the wall opposing the windows, creating a fine crisp ambience which could otherwise be dull, solemn and old-fashioned, seeing the rest of the interior’s furniture. Between the mirrors gold-framed black and white photographs displayed portraits of stern looking men and women facing the camera clad in rough workman’s clothes, seemingly annoyed for lack of colour in their lives. A heavy oak cupboard with glass doors held crystal wine glasses on its shelves and speckled a rainbow of refracted dashes from the palette of white light onto the antique wood surrounding it. Joseph was intrigued by the calming effects this anomalous yet very natural atmosphere and wondered if this was the work of Anthony alone.
A single chime from the clock in the hallway indicated half past twelve. The afternoon had rapidly dissolved all traces of morning and proceeded to accumulate enough mass to inevitably roll into the evening when shadows would join and pull the curtain of the night across the landscape.
Anthony walked into the room with two large glasses of cold water, placed them on the coffee table and sat down facing Joseph.
‘I know it is a bit of a weird house,’ Anthony apologised. ‘Not what one would imagine from a single man in my position, but I like it here, the way it is, and above all the size of it. I suffer from claustrophobia and need a lot of space so over the years I have been pottering away to find the perfect home within the boundaries of architectural possibilities and that my wallet can afford.’
Joseph took a large gulp of refreshing water from the glass and placed it back on the table. ‘I like it here; I don’t know why but I think it is because there is so much light.’
‘That is probably the case,’ Anthony replied. ‘Light is very important in my life and I try to see as much of it as I possibly can. It makes me feel happier and brightens up my days and I seem to need more and more of it lately.’ After a little pause Anthony continued, ‘Let us get to the point, Joseph. Do you know anything about this factory to be built near here? I know you told Sophie something along these lines and I also know that there are growing concerns about things happening around here that fall out of the ordinary. I would like to know if these matters are linked in any way.’
‘I don’t know if I should be talking about this,’ Joseph replied. ‘My father holds a very responsible job around here and I am sure he doesn’t want trouble to come his way.’
‘I am aware of that, Joseph,’ Anthony said. ‘I will take care not to incriminate anyone, but if the rumours are substantiated I am afraid we need to know more than we do now. Many people who live here depend on the way things are and if we are faced with big changes we need to know in time so that we can take measures to oppose ideas which might have a large impact on this community.’
Joseph shifted nervously on the large green seat. ‘About two weeks ago my father and brother Benjamin had an argument over a plan Benjamin was working on within the Council of Cornbridge Town. You must know that Benjamin has a great position there and works closely with the Mayor to see that the financial crisis will pass without causing too many redundancies or have too great an impact on the society here. Benjamin just wanted some advice really and although I don’t know any details, my father became very angry because he felt everybody was kept in the dark. You see, my dad is a very honest man, and in his view my brother Benjamin was crossing the line in that respect.’
‘And that has everything to do with the factory?’ Anthony urged.
‘My father told me later on that same evening that politics destroy the integrity of a person and he would not have his own son become a victim of the Mayor’s lust for power,’ Joseph continued without answering the question.
‘Is that to do with the factory?’ Anthony asked again.
‘Yes,’ the young man replied. ‘They want to build a factory or whatever it is on the banks of the river here in Son upon Tine.
‘What kind of factory?’ Questions kept piling up in Anthony’s head.
‘I really don’t know.’ Joseph spread his arms with a gesture of helplessness. ‘I haven’t got a clue but it has to do with the water in the river. Like my father said, there is something weird about that water.’
Before he could fire another question at the young man a loud creaking noise came from upstairs and jolted Anthony into action.
‘Follow me,’ Anthony ordered and leapt out of his seat, ran into the hall and bolted up the stairs whilst the sound of straining wood under enormous pressure increased. As they reached the landing the buckling doorframe to the bathroom seemed ready to snap at any moment and with all the power Anthony possessed he pushed the doorframe back against the wall.
‘Pass me the hammer and a frame nail from my bedroom over there.’ Anthony nodded in the general direction still pushing as hard as he could.
Joseph understood this was a matter of urgency and quickly grasped the necessary tools from the large box in the corner of the room and passed them on to Anthony.
With one huge blow the nail was driven through the woodwork and into the wall, immediately resolving the problem of stress on the jamb supporting the header.
‘Thank you, Joseph,’ Anthony sighed. ‘This house may be quite beautiful but it has an idiosyncratic character. Just imagine what would have happened if I had been out.’ He carefully inspected the woodwork running his fingers over it from top to bottom and not feeling any trembling within the structure he was confident he had averted a potential disastrous situation which would have cost him a couple of days laborious work.
‘How about staying for lunch, Joseph?’ Anthony asked. ‘I think we still have plenty to talk about.’
Joseph readily accepted the invitation since he was hungry. After all he had not been home last night and consequently missed a couple of the meals his young and active body desperately needed.
Anthony’s kitchen was large and housed an enormous double-door stainless steel refrigerator which swung open to reveal the pickled and smoked hind quarters of a pig hung by a rope from the trotter to a hook fixed to the top shelf. Anthony withdrew a large carving knife from the kitchen drawer and sliced a few portions of bacon, fried them crispy over high heat in an oversized old black frying pan and threw in four eggs for good measure. Shortly afterwards both Anthony and Joseph sat at the kitchen table eating their meal with large chunks of white bread with real butter, and the food seemed to make conversation easier than before.
Joseph looked up towards the huge window in the roof which was visible through all three levels of the house, but before he could form the question Anthony explained.
‘That was a major operation to get light in this area of the house as it is the most northerly situated, deprived of direct sunlight before I decided to break through all the ceilings and open up the roof to fit in the window. It meant I had to put in extra steel joists to support the structure and took me more than a year of hard work from start to finish but I am pleased with the result. The upstairs rooms profit from the change as well.’
Joseph wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. ‘I don’t think our house has seen any changes since it was built,’ he said. And besides that, Father doesn’t have much spare time on his hands. He usually wakes at one in the morning and finishes before daybreak after which he must rest till about four in the afternoon.’
‘You do realise what arduous work your father does, Joseph, don’t you?’ Anthony remarked sincerely. ‘There are many of us who would not dare to venture out at the time he works.’
‘I know,’ Joseph said. But Father is sure that times are changing, that the younger generation is becoming stronger and more resistant to the night. He says it is a good thing although he has also heard from his superior that this may be his perception as he is growing older.’
‘I guess there are things to be said for both points of view,’ Anthony nodded. ‘How about you, what do you think?’
Joseph had to wait with his answer as he struggled to get his jaws around a large piece of bread.
‘The dark did not bother me much last night as I spent most of it outside in the park on the other side of the river with Sophie,’ Joseph beamed a breaded smile.
‘You what?’ Anthony was clearly shocked.
‘We weren’t the only ones,’ Joseph insisted. ‘There is a small group of us who meet occasionally to see if my father is right. Last night we met again and had a bit of a laugh but there were a few who did not turn up this time. Father actually supports us in this and sometimes turns up to see if we are okay. A couple of weeks ago we spotted men working near the river, always at night, drilling holes and taking samples of the water. They don’t seem to be affected by the dark at all and we believe they are there every night but that may be because they wear weird suits and masks.’
A small rattle followed by two chimes disturbed the calm air to resonate on the frequency emitted from the clock and with the speed of sound entered the kitchen in little invisible waves breaking the flat surface of silence during its transportation. Anthony gathered the plates, placed them in the sink and ran the tap to clean off most of the grease.
‘Joseph, would you mind going out tonight and show me where this has been happening?’ Anthony surprised himself with asking the question.
‘I am afraid I can’t.’ Joseph seemed disappointed. ‘I have apprentice duty tonight with father and I can’t miss out on that. Someone has to take over the business in the future.’
‘How about tomorrow then?’ Anthony suggested. ‘Would that be a good time to have a look?’
Again Joseph looked a little disappointed. ‘I was going to see Sophie then but I guess I can see her a day later.’
Anthony smiled. ‘You can bang the living daylights out of her then you little tinker, but for now we must get our priorities right, Joseph.’
Joseph laughed out loud. ‘Although she might not be the prettiest girl on this side of the river, she does have her talents.’
Anthony forcibly laughed too and tried very hard not to envisage the girl whose buttocks he had seen earlier. It had been quite unappetising.
After seeing Joseph out Anthony stood in front of the large windows in the living room watching the young man walk down the street in the direction of the river until he disappeared in the distance.
‘What a day,’ he muttered. ‘What an unusual day.’
The evening bore down on the house in the same fashion it did every day, the first stream of radiating black matter passed through the panes of glass, devouring all the light it passed through and as it hit the mirrors it cast shadows within shadows destroying all that the daylight had achieved in the morning in reverse order. Anthony drew the curtains, switched on the lights and sat down with a cup of coffee listening to a jazzy tune from the radio and he wondered if the bus had made it back to town. It put Anthony at ease that he heard no sounds coming from the supporting structures of his home and quietly slipped into a deep sleep in the chair in the living room, which had never happened to him before.
The bridge Anthony was constructing rose high above the water that swirled wildly beneath him, showing only occasional white heads of breaking waves in the darkness that surrounded him. He cursed himself for coming out on that rainy night, balancing dangerously on the wooden planks supporting him whilst the wind tugged at his black overcoat as he desperately held on to the rope that spanned the entire crossing. Since he had started building there had not been one day of good weather. The progress he made was slow and the first frail section that now stood swayed from side to side wanting to capitulate to the general laws of physics. Anthony was terrified and edged towards the centre of the construction, taking care not to lose his footing on the shiny wet woodwork. Although it was cold, he was sweating copiously, using all his strength to fight nature’s assault on his balance. In the distance lightning struck and for a brief moment lit the entire landscape and gave Anthony enough opportunity to fully grasp the grave situation he was in. There was no way the bridge was going to hold; it would be just mere seconds before it had to collapse. The onslaught of the torrents below and the relentless heaving gusts of wind made the outcome inevitable. As a last resort Anthony laid himself face down and wrapped his arms and legs around the single beam, a foetal attempt to regain safety when even hope had gone. The thunder rumbled ferociously and with ease the wind moved clouds through the skies. The next blast of air signalled the final surrender of Anthony’s construction. He could feel it in his belly first, like being in a lift or a fairground attraction with the distinct difference that there was no excitement, just blind primeval fear causing his entire body to cramp around the piece of wood he was holding onto. As the fall gathered momentum all neural activity in Anthony’s brain was focused on impact; there was nothing else to anticipate in this extreme simplified state of survival.
It hit him before he had realised it. The noise of water racing past his ears, rather than the cold instant soaking, made him aware of his position. He did feel a dull ache in his chest but ignored that and made swimming motions to reach the surface of the river, which was hampered by the weight of his large coat. As he struggled to discard the garment he could feel a soft jelly like texture obstructing his way to safety and only now he could really feel the pain in his chest. Simultaneously Anthony realised he was drowning as his futile attempts to break through the surface were hopeless and with the last strength he could muster he took a deep breath of water, causing a faint suggestion of a promise to come up for air.
A loud knock on the front door woke Anthony. Gulping for air and bathing in sweat from the nightmare and completely disorientated, he stumbled over the coffee table in an effort to get out of the chair. In the process of falling his right temple struck the Chesterfield chair, inflicting a little wound which instantly bled profusely like most head wounds tend to do and Anthony picked himself up, urgently trying to pinpoint his location and how he got there.
There was another loud knock on the door.
‘Yes, yes, I am coming,’ Anthony called out, having regained a certain sense of where he was. He walked into the hallway holding his sore head and glanced at the clock in passing which displayed the time of two O’clock in the morning.
‘What on earth?’ he mumbled to himself as his heart leapt to his throat. All of a sudden he was fully aware someone was outside his door at this time of the night.
A softer knock followed and a voice whispered, ‘Anthony, open up. It is me, Joseph.’
Carefully Anthony opened the door and as the darkness spread into the hallway he could clearly make out two dark figures wearing wide-brimmed hats. His eyes adjusted to cope with the night and he recognised the smaller of the two as Joseph.
‘Jesus, Anthony,’ Joseph said, ‘what have you done to yourself?’ -- and before he could answer -- ‘I would like you to meet my father. May we come in?’
June 15, 12:00 – 17:00, 1959
Mark looked at the enormous pile of sandwiches he had ordered earlier in the day, took one from the top and bit a large chunk from it, rolling the tuna and mayonnaise over his palate to satisfy his taste buds before chewing it into an unrecognisable consistency of wet creamy putty to be forced down into his throat and ultimately reduce his appetite. To accomplish a certain degree of fulfilment with regard to his hunger he would have to consume at least six or seven sandwiches for lunch, downed with ample coffee and a large double whiskey to aid digestion. His doctors often warned him of his unhealthy eating habits in combination with his high blood pressure, but Mark would wave away all concerns about his health with impunity stating that if there was anything wrong he would take a pill for it.
The afternoon would be spent doing his round through a few of the departments within the council building for weekly inspection and he would take Angela with him to make notes of everything he found to be out of order. Mark knew he ran a tight regime but through orchestrating the organisation to his standards he was guaranteed obedience and loyalty, thereby keeping a firm grip on the direction he envisaged for the years ahead. Of course there had been those who questioned his visions, even ones who refused to comply, but on the whole, they had been just small bumps in the long and winding road to his success.
Public Transport and the Night Time Surveillance Team would be visited. The first would be a doddle. His twin brother Rupert ran the department and although he was a grumpy old bugger, he was in many ways like himself. The second required a more tactful approach since the NTST were the only autonomous group within the council and they had direct links with provincial officers who could reverse any decisions if they did not comply with the rules, regulations or direct interests of regional politics, laws or security. But with Alan Constable on his side within NTST Mark had secured a firm grip on the department and with careful manipulation they would follow the markers he had put out.
Mark slipped on his jacket and picked up his cane, checked his appearance in the mirror on the far side of the office and flashed a row of white teeth at himself. As he left the office he slapped the cane against his leg indicating Angela to follow him as he strode through the corridor in the direction of the paternoster which was the main form of transport between the floors. There were of course the staircases, but Mark strictly avoided them as he would rather put his energy into more important matters than working up a sweat by dragging his entire physique from one step to the next.
The metal scuff strips fixed to the heels of his Italian leather shoes clicked loudly on the surface of the marble floor tiles and echoed from the white walls on either side of him. Mark loved the sound of his walk. Every time he bought a pair of fine shoes he would take them to the cobbler and he would have the metal strips attached in the first place to make his personnel aware of his approaching presence and secondly for pure practical reason of wear and tear from his weight. Behind him he heard the quick rhythm of Angela’s steps trying to keep up with him and with a little grin he put in an extra effort to pick up the pace a little.
Impatiently he tapped the floor with his cane. ‘Come along now, Angela. Hurry up, we haven’t got all day.’
With one fluid motion Mark stepped into the moving compartment of the paternoster and inelegantly Angela had to jump down a little to be able to follow him, causing her to stumble, and she instinctively grabbed hold of Mark’s jacket to stop from falling.
Mark instantly put his arm around Angela’s waist to support her and gently put her back onto her feet. Through the thin material of her shirt he could feel her young taut flesh giving way to the pressure of his hand, revealing the tension of underlying musculature of a healthy young female body.
With a quick turn she freed herself from Mark’s obnoxious embrace and immediately realised that the heel had broken from her sandal.
‘Are you alright, Angela?’ Mark said genuinely, not having noticed her lopsided deportment, still remembering the touch of her body. He could see she was close to tears.
‘No I am not,’ Angela bit back. ‘But thank you, Mr. Miworth.’ Angela kneeled down and picked up the severed heel from the floor. ‘I have only just gone and broken my favourite pair of shoes haven’t I?’ she muttered, and the first tear rolled down her cheek leaving a trace of mascara.
‘Now, now, Angela,’ Mark tried to comfort her but felt quite inadequate as the paternoster slid by the 4th floor. ‘I am sure it can be fixed.’
‘Of course it can be fixed,’ Angela sobbed as she leant back against the back wall of the booth submitting to the grief overcoming her and tears flowed freely now. ‘But it can’t be fixed now, Mr. Miworth, can it?’
‘I suppose not,’ Mark answered.
‘I can hardly hobble along like this through the building with you; just imagine what everybody will say,’ Angela was indisputably panicking now and let her body slide down the wall until she sat on the floor.
Mark still had no idea how to handle this embarrassing situation. With each floor they passed more people gazed at the surreal scene displayed within the framework of the compartment as it slowly moved down to reveal itself to its next audience.
Between floors two and one Mark made the executive decision to pull Angela up by her arm and slapped her across the face with a short sharp blow from the palm of his chubby hand. For a moment Angela was stunned by the painful sting and had it not been for the large handkerchief placed over her mouth, she would have screamed.
Mark’s face came frightfully close to hers. ‘Now tidy yourself up, take off your shoes and get a grip, Angela,’ he hissed.
For reasons unbeknownst to Angela she took the handkerchief, removed the tears from her face, stepped out of her shoes and hurriedly tugged at her clothes, ineffectually trying to remove any evidence of what had gone before.
Still a little dishevelled she faced Mark. ‘Don’t you ever dare do that again you bastard because you will live to regret it . . . but thanks for helping me.’
Mark couldn’t help but grin sheepishly as he stepped out of the paternoster on the first floor, shortly followed by Angela who had to jump to get out behind him. They made their way to the NTST department, Mark’s shoes clicking loudly on the tiles contrasting with the barely audible barefooted steps of Angela who cradled her shoes like little babies to her breasts. It had become apparent to Mark that Angela would never ever love him, not in his lifetime, but he had discovered they had a passion in common and one that was very dear to him, the love for shoes.
Alan Constable met Mark and Angela in the corridor. A short and firm handshake completed the ritual of welcome and after entering his office Alan offered them both coffees, which they refused.
‘How are things with the secret service,’ Mark asked jokingly.
‘Pretty much the usual,’ Alan reported with a smile. ‘The wife is pregnant again and I suspect we have a very active postman on our estate.’
Both men laughed and Angela felt quite ill-at-ease in the company of these two brash individuals.
‘I suppose the force is ready for inspection,’ Mark said and nodded towards the door leading to internal headquarters of the NTST.
‘Yes, most certainly,’ Alan replied. ‘Since the joining of Night Time Exempt Trades we have been able to improve our efficiency somewhat after downsizing our own department. We have three new officers within our organisation who see to the logistics and information concerning the Exempt Traders within the borders of the Borough. It does alleviate the stress on the Investigation Staff and we are glad to have them on board. They are very keen to meet you and I suggest we go right away for they have been awaiting you for quite some time now.’
‘Would you mind if I were to stay here?’ Angela interrupted, still clenching her shoes, ‘I could really do without being made a fool of.’
‘I believe we can make an exception,’ Mark answered, remembering the scene in the paternoster. ‘I am sure Alan won’t mind but you will be disappointing the young men who would do anything to catch a glimpse of you.’
‘I’d rather stay where I am,’ Angela pleaded.
‘Very well,’ Mark said, ‘but you shall have to make up for it next time.’ He threw a fat wink at Alan and both men disappeared through the door.
Angela had been there many times before. The sober offices adjoining Alan’s office were occupied by lean men in tight black uniforms and shiny black belts. They maintained a strict hierarchy of rank which was displayed on their right upper sleeve in symbols she did not understand. The living quarters of these men were located behind the offices and at a later stage of the inspection they would be visited, too, including an examination of their personal metal lockers which displayed posters of naked women on the inside of the doors. It was a manly place, clean and scrubbed hard, but it lacked any form of character, like living in a bathroom. Carefully she inspected the damage to her sandal and silently cursed Mark for what he was, an intelligent, obese and dangerous man with the scruples of a hyena.
Angela’s attention was drawn to a large red cardboard archive folder carelessly thrown onto the middle of Alan’s desk. Slightly smudged bold black letters from a rubber stamp stated STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL and a second slightly smaller stamp in the upper right hand corner read L.D. As far as Angela was concerned L.D. was a term not commonly used within the council and she associated it with Learning Disability, a condition derived from mental illness. With the inspection under way no one would disturb her here in Alan’s office and her inquisitive character could not contain the urge to sneak a quick look into whatever could be so strictly confidential.
The first white sheet of A4 paper held the clue as to what L.D. meant.
Lower Decks was neatly typed in the centre of the page and underneath it Entries 1959, June 15th, 10:30 hrs followed by a short statement on the next page describing the demotion of Bellamy Tomrow and Bernard Cowsgate to Lower Deck 3 to fulfil clerical duties for a length of time the CEO of NTST saw relevant in view of behaviour conflicting with the interest of Provincial Security Matters. Both families would be informed that their highly regarded members would be serving national interests abroad for awhile and in line with their duties they could not be contacted for the duration of their newly appointed posts. The letter would be drawn up according to stencil LD3.121.a. Bellamy Tomrow and Bernard Cowsgate were allocated accommodations on LD3, corridor 2, rooms 12 and 14 of which 14 had to be vacated by Jeremiah Maxpan who would progress to LD2, corridor 14, room 3, awaiting further questioning concerning his application for duties in Public Relations in LD1.
Angela remembered the names from the newsletter she had taken dictation for that morning, and although the third sounded familiar, she was unable to put a face to it, nor could she associate the Lower Decks with anything she had ever heard of. It soon became as plain as the nose on her face that something was amiss here and she hastily copied the statement in shorthand in her notebook after which she again ruffled through the pile of pages that lay before her. The thrill of danger and the influx of adrenaline made her feel like a thief, a burglar striking lucky by lifting a mattress to find a bulging old sock and the more information she read from the document, the more her disposition transformed to one of fear. Not the type of fear she had encountered earlier when Mark had stood behind her as she was taking notes. This was completely different. This knowledge could cost her more than just an indecent grope, it would most definitely put her in a position where she would be exposed to all evil measures Mark and the NTST had available. Of so much she was certain. There was an organisation within the organisation which could dispose of people as they saw fit. Angela carefully put the papers back in the red folder and positioned it as it had been on the desk previously and wished she had never taken a look. With a trembling hand she reached for her handbag and withdrew a packet of Belinda cigarettes and smoked one right down to the filter.
About fifteen minutes later both men returned from their inspection, visibly amused and in the highest of spirits.
‘Thank you for a most interesting tour,’ Mark complimented. ‘Angela and I shall have to move on.’
‘Careful where you step.’ Alan smiled at Angela whilst shaking her hand very firmly. ‘The men missed you sorely.’
As soon as Angela and Mark left the office Mark toned down his voice. ‘Please note that the CEO of NTST should not leave classified information on his desk when leaving his office.’
Not wanting to risk being seen at the paternoster just yet Mark opted for the stairs this time. The Public Transport Department was only one floor up from where they were and after a few steps he regretted his decision already. Mark could feel the strain in his thighs and he pulled himself up along the balustrade not even bothering to look up Angela’s skirt, although she was a couple of steps ahead of him. When he reached the top of the second and last flight of stairs Mark unsuccessfully disguised the enormous effort it has taken him and for the first time Angela’s fear subsided a little. She could see he was short of breath, that his entire body heaved to inhale as much oxygen as it could from the air surrounding them to supply his muscles with enough energy to continue his journey. Clear beads of sweat protruded from pores on his forehead waiting to fall onto his large grey bushy eyebrows. As Mark recuperated Angela understood she was not scared of this man. She could push him down the stairs and kill him outright, but that would not solve any problems. It was his power and position of control which frightened her. If she subtracted that from the equation she saw before her there would be little left to fear.
‘Let us see how our Rupert is doing today,’ Mark panted and struck the metal railing with his cane, causing a loud clear ring, filling the stairwell with echoes.
Rupert and Mark were identical twins born from a mother they had never known and they were the reason why. A uterine rupture had caused her to bleed to death during childbirth and Rupert, the second born, only narrowly escaped death had it not been for the surgeon’s expertise. Mark often wondered if that caused Rupert to be such a cantankerous bastard at times. It would certainly explain his wild mood swings and needless fits of unmotivated anger directed indiscriminately at anyone in his direct vicinity when a fit would raise its ugly head. But Mark loved Rupert in spite of all his shortcomings and had given him the job as Manager of Public Transport since he had always shown a keen interest in trains, busses and timetables. As a young child Rupert showed an amazing talent in remembering the names of every station throughout the entire country and the times the services were running. At the same time Mark appreciated the hands-on approach his brother used to keep in touch with the community, still driving the bus from Cornbridge Town to Flaunton in the morning and again in the afternoon.
Rupert’s office displayed a large map of the area which covered most of the wall behind the desk where he was seated and colourful lines spread out from the centre indicating routes the department had to manage.
With brotherly affection, the two men embraced each other and Rupert moved a chair from the corner of the office to the desk to accommodate Angela.
‘We are looking good.’ Rupert smiled at Mark. Life at the top must be serving you well.’
‘Yes Rupert,’ Mark replied. ‘Busy but quite content.’
‘You are in particularly fine shape today, Angela.’ Rupert addressed Angela, who cringed at the remark but did not answer.
‘It seems there have been very few complaints following the increase of the prices for fares, Rupert. I must admit that I had not expected that. A 15% rise for a ticket would suggest some feedback from the locals.’
‘Ah,’ Rupert cleared his throat. ‘I have taken the liberty to attain these moneys in a different way seeing the current mood of our customers after last month’s rise in pricing. To prevent any financial discontent with our clientele I have shortened all existing routes by 15%, which saves us the same percentage in fuel and wages, and as the fuel price is rising the actual savings are greater than the 15% ticket rise would generate. The number of passengers using our service is not enough to outweigh the outcome, which could be achieved if we pushed the price of a ticket to more than 30% and then we would have a problem. So if my calculations are correct, and who would believe they are not, the 31 routes we are currently running mount up to 1480 miles a day. 15% of 1480 miles is 222 miles per day which works out saving £336 per day on just fuel which on the basis of a year makes £107.520. The drivers of these 31 routes also work 15% less and this is deducted from their wages, each of them earning around £12.000 per year, and saves us £1800 a year per driver times 31 and equals £55.800, if you add that to the previous 107.520 we get to the rather pleasant sum of £163.320.
‘Rupert,’ Mark interrupted calmly, ‘are you sure this is a good idea? Are you seriously suggesting we drop people short of where they want to be?’
‘I have thought of that,’ Rupert smiled. ‘Customers on shorter trips within the routes will be taken a little further to compensate for the loss on the longest trips so the average length will not be affected.’
‘Rupert,’ Mark replied, ‘you are a genius.’
‘I have all the calculations typed out and they will be forwarded to your office,’ Rupert said. ‘If you want the results of the ticket fare rise as a reference to compare I will gladly add it as a supplement.’
‘No need; I believe you have sorted matters satisfactorily,’ Mark added quickly and rose from his chair to have a look at the map behind his brother.
Angela was still stunned by the staccato of Rupert’s calculations which had come from the top of his head; there was not a scrap of paper on the desk for him to have read it from. Although both men were identical twins, Angela most certainly detected a difference in character; Mark was an egocentric compulsory liar who would at any cost preserve and defend his attained lifestyle whilst Rupert was a naïve technocrat bent on pleasing his brother’s aspirations and in doing so had become a cog in the machinery turning in Mark’s favour.
Much later when they left Rupert’s office Mark whistled a familiar little tune he remembered from days long since gone and tapped his cane to the beat to accompany himself. Behind him Angela struggled to push her sandals in her handbag whilst trying to keep hold of her notebook and pencil case.
At exactly five O’clock an electronic buzz from the intercom signalled the end of the working day at the council offices and Mark stood in front of the window in his office to watch his personnel stream out of the innards of the building. Within a few minutes everybody had made their way across the square in directions that led away from Mark’s vision apart from one figure who glanced back at the office before continuing her way barefooted.
Mark picked up a cigar from the box in the window ledge and clipped off the end carefully. Before lighting it he sat down in his chair, unlocked and opened the top drawer of his desk, pushed the large green button that was concealed within and without a sound the complete office slid down towards his living quarters which were located below ground level.